Alejo Carpentier Biography


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Alejo Valmont Carpentier was born in Havana, Cuba, in 1904. His parents had immigrated to Cuba two years before. His father was a French architect, and his mother was of Russian origin. Carpentier, whose first language was French (he retained throughout his life a French accent in Spanish), was sent to the best schools in Havana. While in his early teens, he and his parents made a very long trip to Europe, first traveling to Russia to claim an inheritance and later spending a good deal of time in Paris. In the French capital, Carpentier attended high school and began to acquire what was to become his awesome musical erudition. Back in Cuba, Carpentier finished his secondary education and registered at the university. He wanted to be an architect, like his father, but two events prevented his finishing his university studies. First, his father left home and was never heard from again, which forced Carpentier to earn a living for himself and his mother. Second, classes at the university were frequently canceled because of political turmoil.

Carpentier left school altogether and joined the revolutionary students who were fighting against Gerardo Machado y Morales, a dictator supported by the United States. Carpentier worked as a journalist and was instrumental in founding the Afro-Cuban movement, which hailed Cuba’s African heritage. Afro-Cubanism wanted to create a new aesthetic based on Afro-Cuban folklore, and, as a political movement, championed the cause of the exploited black workers. Carpentier was jailed briefly in early 1928; a few months later, he managed to escape to France, where he was protected by his friend, the Surrealist poet Robert Desnos.

Between 1928 and 1930, Carpentier was associated with the influential Surrealist movement, and, in 1930, he participated in one of the squabbles that split the group. He had learned from Surrealism that his desire to look at things from a non-European perspective, something he had sought through Afro-Cubanism, was a major force in all avant-garde aesthetics. It became his major preoccupation as an artist. Translated into his own terms, the issue was how to look at reality with Latin American eyes. In France, he met other Latin American artists engaged in the same quest: the Cuban painter Wifredo Lam, the Guatemalan novelist Miguel Ángel Asturias, the Venezuelan novelist Arturo Uslar Pietri, and the Cuban folklorist Lydia Cabrera. He learned from all of them, as well as from James Joyce, the great Irish writer living in Paris at the time, who was plumbing the English language in search of a new way of expressing the world. Marginality—Joyce from the British Empire, the Latin Americans from Europe in general—was the bond.

Carpentier made a living in Paris with radio work, becoming an expert on radio broadcasting and advertising; these two activities became his source of income for many years thereafter. In Paris, he needed them, for he married very shortly after settling in that city. His wife, who was Swiss, died soon of tuberculosis,...

(The entire section is 1235 words.)

Alejo Carpentier Biography

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Alejo Carpentier, the son of French and Russian parents, was educated in France as well as Cuba, studying architecture and music. A journalist during the 1920’s, he became fascinated with Afro-Cuban culture, publishing his first novel, which dealt with this theme, shortly after being exiled for political activities. During the 1930’s he moved among avant-garde coteries in Paris, including the surrealists, although he later rejected doctrinaire surrealism. His reencounter in 1939 with the Caribbean—Venezuela, Mexico, Haiti—initiated his finest years of literary production. In 1959, he began serving the Castro government in a wide assortment of cultural offices, and he was without question the most prestigious Cuban to lend it such support. Carpentier died in Paris, France, on April 24, 1980.

Alejo Carpentier Biography

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Alejo Carpentier (kahr-pehn-TYAYR) was born in Havana, Cuba, in 1904. His father was French and his mother was of Russian origin, and they had emigrated to Cuba two years before their son’s birth. Carpentier was bilingual in both French and Spanish, but people who knew him say that he pronounced Spanish with a very strong French accent and that he felt more comfortable communicating in French, which was the language spoken in his household. His parents were wealthy; they had a spacious house with an excellent library where their son studied. He went to private schools in Cuba but he also spent long periods in Paris, which helped him compare and contrast Latin American and European cultural values. Carpentier wanted to continue his father’s business and he started studying architecture, but after his father unexpectedly abandoned the family, Alejo quit the university and went into journalism. He turned out to be an excellent writer and a very talented editor. During those years he also showed great interest in Afro-Cuban culture, especially music, and soon wrote and produced several ballets, comic operas, numerous conference articles, stories, and poems.

The 1920’s in Cuba were turbulent. It was the youngest of all Latin American republics; only in 1898 had it gained independence from Spain. That same year, however, the United States occupied Cuba; this occupation lasted until 1902. Thereafter, the United States regularly intervened in Cuban affairs and in 1925 it strongly supported the rise of President Gerardo Machado, a dictator.

Carpentier became involved with the opposition, and in 1927, he was put in jail for more than a month for signing an antigovernment manifesto. After that experience he escaped from Cuba using a friend’s documents, flew to Paris, and stayed in the French capital for the next eleven years. Between 1928 and 1939 he...

(The entire section is 766 words.)

Alejo Carpentier Biography

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Alejo Carpentier’s work is about the search for what it means to be Latin American. Western ideas of the linearity of history and “progress” in music, literature, and philosophy are juxtaposed with African and pre-Hispanic cosmogonies that favor a circular path in history and an oral tradition. In spite of all the steps that Carpentier’s protagonists take toward freeing themselves, in the end they are unable to escape the artificiality of their Western existence.

Alejo Carpentier Biography

(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Alejo Valmont Carpentier (kahr-pehn-TYAYR) is a seminal figure in the development of twentieth century Latin American literature. A perennial nominee for the Nobel Prize in Literature, Carpentier ranks with Miguel Ángel Asturias and Jorge Luis Borges as one of the major influences on the emergence and international recognition of the Latin American novelist in the second half of the twentieth century. Carpentier was born in Havana, Cuba, on December 26, 1904, the son of Jorge Julian Carpentier, a French architect, and Lina Valmont, a Russian language teacher. His parents had emigrated from France to Cuba two years earlier. They were convinced that Cuba, independent as a result of the Spanish-American War, was a place to create a...

(The entire section is 1177 words.)